Mr NORTHE (Morwell) — I rise this afternoon to speak on the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Amendment (Latrobe Valley Mine Rehabilitation Commissioner) Bill 2017. The bill does a number of things, including establishing the office of the Latrobe Valley mine rehabilitation commissioner. They will have various responsibilities including investigating, monitoring and reporting to the minister and indeed to the community on the activities and strategies to be implemented around the relevant rehabilitation of coalmine land in the Latrobe Valley region specifically. The commissioner also has some other powers around investigations and audits, coordinating some of the rehabilitation planning activities and providing advice, reports and recommendations to not only the minister but the community more generally.
One of the key aims of the bill is to make sure that the minister prepares a regional rehabilitation strategy by 30 June 2020. It is important to note that the mines within the Latrobe Valley at the moment are already undergoing rehabilitation. I think sometimes that is forgotten by certain groups and organisations who think that these large coalmines have not had any rehabilitation during the course of their mining activities. That is far from the case. One of the questions I have in relation to the development of a regional rehabilitation strategy is: does this alter, amend or make redundant the current rehabilitation plans that the mines have in place?
I want to take up some of the comments made by the member for Essendon. In his contribution he talked about the government having to intervene in market failure and in this case the state government stepping in to oversee or have responsibility around mine rehabilitation. It is interesting that the member for Essendon would say that, and would this government be prepared, if there was a market failure around energy security in Victoria, to intervene then? How would it do that given the member for Caulfield quite rightly pointed out that the Australian Energy Market Operator has indicated that on the worst possible days Victoria will have to import electricity from New South Wales?
The member for Essendon also asked: who is going to invest in coal projects? Banks do not do that anymore. The member for Essendon is well versed in what is happening in other parts of the world, so why are they building coal-fired power plants in Germany, China and other jurisdictions? I am sure they are getting finance to do that. If you talk to anybody associated with any coal-related projects in Australia, among the major impediments are the policies put in place by governments of the day. Indeed the former federal Labor government and the current state Labor government have put policy and budget settings in place that deter investment in coal-related projects.
In the Latrobe Valley we have three major coalmines, including Yallourn. If one has done a tour of the Yallourn mine, they would have seen that quite a deal of rehabilitation has already taken place particularly in the south-western area of the mine. Obviously that mine provides coal for the Yallourn power station. Hazelwood has been talked about. Again there has been a lot of contention over a period of time about that mine, and obviously the mine fire of 2014 was a terrible time for many people in our community. It probably instigated the bill that we are talking about today.
We have the Loy Yang mine, which provides coal for the Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B power stations. What the member for Essendon did say that is correct is that these are massive coal pits. They have been mined extensively for years. They are large, they are steep and they are very complex, and it is important that the rehabilitation of these mines that takes place in the future is done in a manner that meets community expectations.
In my view we should be incorporating world’s best practice in undertaking that rehabilitation into the future. I must say at the same time there are certainly many environmental groups, commentators and experts who think this is an easy solution. It is not. These mines are very, very complex. It is not just the terrain; it is the coal resource itself and the make-up of that coal. The member for Mildura can give an explanation of the content of coal. These mines also have very complex water aquifers to deal with. They are not simple; they are complex. To simply think that you can throw a bit of overburden over the top of them and they will be fine or fill them up with water without any other infrastructure in place is completely and utterly wrong.
As the member for Caulfield said in his contribution, we have some concerns on this side of the house that the government wants to appoint a commissioner as soon as possible because they want to get on with the job of rehabilitating the mine as quickly as they can. We simply do not understand what the government’s position is on coal or its coal policy. We might remember — I certainly do — a media release coming out of the government in November 2015. Remember Rhys Edwards? ‘We’ve commissioned Rhys Edwards from Tasmania to do some work to tell us how our coal policy might work. We want that information from Mr Edwards’. Well, the government will not release any of the detail or the report from Mr Edwards, which I understand was handed to various ministers in April of last year. It is just unbelievable that we do not have this information.
I have sent formal letters to the Minister for Resources. I have put constituency questions in the Parliament. I have put questions on notice. The minister has come back to me in writing to say that the government will release its coal policy in December 2016. Here we are in May, and Hazelwood power station is closed and the government has not released its coal policy. This is an absolute disgrace at a time when our community is keen to understand whether this government supports coal, and not necessarily just coal in energy production but for other purposes. There are a number of companies and interested parties who are prepared to invest in coal-related projects, but how the hell can they do that when we do not even know what the position of this government is with respect to coal?
One has to wonder what the future direction of this government is when it comes to coal for energy production. We all know about Hazelwood: we know the government’s policy was to close Hazelwood, and we know they set a renewable energy target and the only way they could meet that was to close Hazelwood. We know that in last year’s budget they imposed another $252 million on generators in the Latrobe Valley and then tried to package that up and say, ‘Here we go; we’re heroes. We’ve announced a $266 million support package’. It is just an absolute disgrace. To allow Hazelwood power station to close in less than six months is nothing more than an absolute disgrace, and it comes at a time of rising unemployment in my community. It is going to be a difficult ride ahead. If anyone thinks that having Hazelwood close — with hundreds of jobs lost, security of supply threatened for Victoria and the cost of energy prices going through the roof — is a great income, then they have got rocks in their heads. It is as simple as that.
Mr D. O’Brien interjected.
Mr NORTHE — Yes. I also take up some comments from the minister in his media release of 22 March, which talks about the new commissioner’s role of overseeing the mine rehabilitation. Within that he talked about the fact that, ‘we’ll always stand by the region’s workers, businesses and communities’. Well, I am sorry, Minister, but that is far too late. Your government did nothing to ensure that Hazelwood would at least go through a gradual closure, which you promised to do and which never happened.
The minister also talked about the worker transfer scheme. I have to refer to this. Last week it was reported in our local media that the first instance of the worker transfer scheme had occurred with AGL. That is absolute rubbish. It is a fallacy; it is not true. They are trying to claim that the worker transfer scheme is up and running. It has not happened; it is not the case at all. Our community needs an explanation of that as well. In terms of the bill itself, we are not opposing it.